Many people in my generation have a goal of leaving great wealth to their children and grandchildren. I hope none of my descendants are holding their breath for that! The legacy I hope to leave behind is a little more complicated but, in my opinion, so much more valuable. I want to make sure my daughters and grandchildren know, without a doubt, how deeply and unconditionally they were loved by me.
Unconditional love is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it mean? By definition, unconditional love is love without limitations or conditions. It’s a selfless love given without expecting anything in return. When you love someone unconditionally, your love is not contingent on their behavior or ability to reciprocate. It’s pure, selfless love. Unconditional love can be found in different types of relationships, but for this purpose, I’ll confine it to the love between parents and children or grandchildren.
Every child needs at least one person who is “all in” for them. Every child deserves someone who is their cheerleader, their shoulder to cry on, their soft place to land. For most kids, that person is going to be their parent. For many kids, it’s their grandparents. More than 6.1 million children in the U.S live in their grandparent’s home. In many cases, the grandparents are the primary caregivers. Oklahoma ranks second in the country for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
How can parents and grandparents show a child they are loved deeply and unconditionally? It’s not unusual for people in my generation to never have heard the words “I love you” from their parents. It can be painful to long for those words from a parent and never have that desire filled. My aunt was devoted to her father and craved his verbal expression of love. My grandfather stood by her casket at her funeral with tears streaming down his face saying, “I love you” repeatedly. How sad he deprived her of those words she craved when she was alive. I was fortunate that my dad broke the cycle and told me he loved me every time we talked.
Words of love come easily to me, but they seem inadequate to describe how I feel about those I hold dearest. I tell my kids and grandkids how much I love them frequently. My grandson and I have ongoing conversations comparing my love to the galaxies, black holes, and the universe. He loves it when I tell him that black holes fear my love because it’s too big for them to hold.
My daughters used to love to play the “what if” game, and often it took the form of “would you still love me if….” It was mostly lighthearted banter with ridiculous propositions, but their “what if” questions occasionally took a more serious turn. I interpreted this game as mostly fun, but also as a need for my daughters to feel secure in my love. They needed the confirmation that no matter what they did, I was going to be right by their side loving them. I might not always like their actions, I might be angry or disappointed, but I would still love them. Children need that security to go out in the world and attempt scary things.
5 Ways to Show Kids Unconditional Love
How do we make children feel they are loved unconditionally? I’m not the expert, I don’t have all the answers, but these are the strategies I’ve used that seem to work.
1. Tell them
That’s simple enough, or it seems like it should be. If saying the words “I love you” seem to get stuck in your throat, practice. Stand in front of a mirror and say it over and over until it feels more natural. It might be good to convince yourself that you love that person in the mirror. We all need to hear it.
2. Show it
That’s a little more complicated because we all feel love differently. You probably know your child or grandchild well enough to recognize their “language of love.” It might be words of affirmation, time spent together, or hugs and snuggles. Maybe all of it!
Kids know if you’re genuinely taking joy in being with them. That’s not to say you can be ecstatic about every single minute you spend with them, but take some time and allow yourself to be immersed in being fully present with them. It seems to be a trend right now to talk about how it’s not the parents’ job to play with their kids. That may be true, but have you seen the pure joy on your child’s face when you sit down and play with trucks or legos, jump on the trampoline, or play Candyland with them? Playing together is a great way to show your pleasure in spending time with them.
4. Show up
It seems that at least half of successful parenting is simply showing up. Be there for family dinner, soccer games, tuck-in time, ballet recitals, and back-to-school night. I remember the security I felt when I’d look in the stands and see my parents at every swim meet. I’m sure sitting in the hot stands watching kids swim up and down the pool wasn’t their idea of a great weekend, but they showed up every time I swam. All those moments are like tiny grains of sand that eventually add up to make a substantial sandcastle.
5. One-on-one time
Kids crave undiluted, focused, no phones, one-on-one with their parents or grandparents. That time was a commodity in short supply when I was a working single mom. Some days were a chaotic mess of rushing around, but my daughters knew that every evening, almost without fail, they each got fifteen minutes of my time before bed to talk and read together. One-on-one time can be taking a walk or baking cookies, whatever works for you.
We all want to be loved. The need to be loved and accepted for exactly who we are is deep in our souls. If a child has that one person who makes them feel unconditionally loved, that child can go out into the world and live courageously and confidently. Be that parent. Be that grandparent. Leave a legacy that will endure, no matter what the stock market does. Love pays the best dividends and is immune to the whims of the economy. Love generously, love unconditionally, and you’ll never regret your investment!